the vulture eats between her meals a bottle fly, a pair of eels a rotting carcass in the ditch a taste to make your stomach hitch to tide her o'er till dinner bell a politician straight from hell putrid, lifeless, soulless lout see the vulture crunch his snout swallow his ears, his fingers, a toe spit out eyebrows, the tie must go even the vulture has her limits she vomits him out in a matter of minutes
He feels for the roots
pushing cracked, lined hands through the soft dirt.
He removes the intruding hedge’s dark knots
to spare the thin struggle of a tree.
He wants assurance
that his new lady is the right choice.
He rolls a stone into place while
the earth turns on its axis.
I think of the farm my partner and I didn’t buy,
how we came to this house with no curtains instead.
The landscaper wants to know
if he will be a good parent.
The air smells of dislodged spearmint
and crushed lavender.
The blood blister on his palm swings skyward
as he cups a drooping branch and clips it off.
He does it over and over, the swinging and cupping.
What would mean “I don’t know” in my hands
is a pruning ballet in his,
the tall tree an answer.
I think of the child we didn’t adopt,
of her photo in the book: Kristy.
She had so many letters: ADHD, ODD, PTSD.
My lover couldn’t see the girl
in the forest of letters.
Next spring’s seed catalog lies on the seat
of the landscaper’s truck in the driveway;
a diagram of next year’s garden takes shape in his mind.
He hurries to lay gravel and sand
but loses to the rotation of the earth.
“Want to save this nest for your daughter?” he asks,
laying it carefully on the porch steps.
The daughter we did adopt.
The one to whom I am a good parent
most of the time,
alone in this house.
“Yes,” I say. Yes to the lady, the good
parenthood, the nest. Yes to the removal of roots
that held nothing so strongly that a mistake
couldn’t make it all fall down.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
A tree isn’t “tall” except in relation to us,
who are “short.” The heart of a hummingbird
fills the world. Try
to apply this principle to loved ones
who shrink with age,
slow down and speed up according to
the weather, forget where things
are but remember how things were,
what it was like in Columbus Grove, Ohio,
how to tie a clove hitch, or a sheet bend,
but who’s that asking am I all right
and can I tell her who she is?
I’m anonymous as winter and twice as old
and she could be too—what’s the point of telling her
anything? It’s a red and black flannel shirt
with little rips in the shoulders
and soft threads that hang from the cuffs,
brushing against me like second thoughts.
THE WOMAN WHO FELL INTO DISREPAIR
forgets that parts of her
that other parts once
angled for attention
she took time
as if it couldn’t be bent, flattened, eliminated, reordered
as if it was matter
as if it mattered
as if it could be compressed or exploded, colored in, Photoshopped out
with her everywhere,
twin burdens slung from a yoke
she ignored the warnings all around
the flags, sirens, scars, flashing
beacons, allergic reactions, slaps on the
cheek, fullness, emptiness, the color red,
the lack of color
she had let it go let it all go let it go let the cells
puff up or fall where they would into the cracks in her arms and legs
over the dents in her lips through the tunnels in her scalp
into the empty spaces she’d forgotten
a landfill of woman
a historical dustbin
an entire lost tribe
too remote and ugly to signify
THE WOMAN WHO GAVE UP SPEAKING
has heard enough.
The enterprise is not loyalty.
Daggers. Blood. Mermaids.
She has seen
fall like the snapped bodies
The enterprise is stolen words.
Death Before Dishonor.
Jesus. Mother. Semper Fi.
She has tried to pull the no-trick
ponies from their sunken
The enterprise is cold so
bitter the tears
before they’ve left your eyes.
She is not
Along twisted pathways
leaves reach for
the back of something
that ran by
a staring ape.
ORPHEUS, EURYDICE, AND HERMES
She remembers she was keen, vigilant, and efficient.
She remembers that the kill was quick,
that hushed bones cracked deep inside the body.
Hovering, she was All gliding, All diving,
All futures soon to shriek
kee-ahrrr down down, kee-ahrrr!
She remembers a sting, and trying to focus
in this dark place. She whose electric glance
could track the wild tracings
of a fly two worlds away,
dazed, injured, unfocused.
She is in the dark for many futures.
Then Who-is-larger comes beside her
and pulls on her feet,
makes her feet go to him.
Pulling air with her wings she tries to escape
but Who-is-larger holds fast,
murmuring like leaves in autumn.
Together, for her feet seem fastened
to Who-is-larger now,
they move through the darkness.
The sun puts its rats through their mazes,
sucks the waves from the sea,
forces open the reluctant lilies.
Its grief a white light on all it can reach,
the sun can do nothing
Stepping from the darkness
Who-is-larger closes his eyes against the bright light.
The sun, ecstatic, covers everything instantly.
She, tilting her head, with one eye glares skyward
then turns away
blinded, focused on nothing.
Powerless, now, to reach her,
the sun, severed, floats on, grieving
blood-red at the last.
Along with many of my closest friends and friends I don’t know yet, I often feel like I’m living in a landscape made hostile by the decisions, sometimes mere whims, of others over whom I have no control and with whom I doubt I could have a conversation that would include any meaningful mutual understanding. I wrote this poem many years ago, and enjoyed the self-imposed task of inventing a language and grammar to make it work, while also expressing the humor, homesickness, fear, and isolation that so often pushes one to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. It still feels true to me, so I share it today.
I’ve recited this poem at readings many times over the years, and it takes some rehearsal but is always fun to say aloud. To get you started, I’ll tell you that the speaker is a human writer living on another planet.
HIS LAND OF ROOMS
Please, come in.
Don’t be shy, take a seat. Or,
I should say, extend your nemdops and lower your fleegrong’n.
—The candles? Well, no, not for heat. Does it bother you? Sometimes,
—well, yes, they do use oxygen. Never mind.
So, Pargffen, I hope this will be the first of many
—In English. I plan to read in English.
(I cannot. I will not. I tried some lines:
fentonn reb fleedeep miss’rab soor
nempebb, pebb nggit Pargffeen ho’or
The damned apostrophes are to be squeaked.
Insupportable.) Shall we go on?
I’d like to begin with one of my early works that
—Yes, I understand your position on ownership.
I don’t own these words; I merely arrange them.
Shall I continue? (This habit they have,
of putting reensamsam in their slomgrong’ni,
I should have expressly forbid it.) All right.
This piece is called “Land of Rooms”
and I suppose I’d best explain a word or two:
Humans begin their lives as small, dependent creatures called children, who live in
“Insomnia” is an inability to sleep. It is usually frustrating. Many things cause it,
Let’s see, do you know what a “mistake” is?
—I thought not. (Why did I pick this one to read?)
It means doing something wrong, unintentionally.
Sometimes you get to try again.
I think you’ll understand the rest. Wait,
do you know “silence”? (No, no, no, no.)
Silence is the absence of sound. As if your dapgrong’ni stopped working.
—But that’s possible to imagine, isn’t it? Listen,
silence is sometimes very pleasant. Humans find it restful,
which, as you know, we like. Now, let’s proceed.
—Yes, Hjǽm? —Ahh.
The idea is that I will read and you will listen
or rather, p’liff with your dapgrong’ni,
and at the end, if you enjoyed it,
you will applaud. —Umm, you could wave your dapgrong’ni,
or push one rarpeen against the other until a sound comes out. —Oh,
I had no idea. Well,
how might you show approval then? Perhaps you could just
nod your bogrong’n. (Can we settle on it, please?) Shall I just begin?
—Yes, I have, actually, tried to. Describing this place
has been…challenging, shall we say.
—No, I’m not ready to read that piece; it’s not right yet. (Never again.
I shall never do this again.) —You must believe me when I say it’s a slow process.
No telling when I’ll be ready to share that one. Please,
please can we go on? (Oh no, it’s nearly ffenzod’nǿth time.
I should have chosen another day.) I say,
would you prefer that we do this another time?
—Pardon me, I forgot. (All time one ocean
and all that, god damn this place, even if it is,
by hell, all places.) I’ll just read
while you zod’nǿthne, if that’s all right.
—No, no, I’m not unhappy; please don’t think that.
(I know what they do to unhappy aliens, by god.) And neither is my poem.
Suppose we do this:
you’ll zod’nǿthne; I’ll read,
you’ll applaud—somehow; I’ll go back to my quarters and work,
and then sleep.
I shall sleep while you zod’nǿthne. In the same time.
Bird and Tree
There, again. See? A small darting thing
with sharp edges and a wide brim
went into the dark arms of the tall one that whispers
constantly, its mouths dangling from tiny handles.
The small one calls out, bragging—or
its brim tucked away,
dagger mouth waving in the air.
It builds a little jail and stabs at it, then
goes in search of a prisoner.
The tall one waits. Where are its eyes?
I’m sorry so many of the poems come out of the dark side. I’m trying to keep myself in the light, but that’s not when writing occurs.
The Word “Are,” for Example
Raised to be frugal with self pity,
I hesitate to complain.
Alibis run from my mouth
like ants from a flooded hill.
I went there directly from the funeral,
weary of the mourners, severe,
time-spotted, hunched like flowers graveside.
I went there wanting to speak in tongues.
I went there, where attraction divides itself
into hungry collisions and sweaty testimonials.
I met a charismatic,
pierced his ear with a sewing needle,
scrubbed his stubble with my gums,
licked his sagging pockets every one.
He said what we need is sleeping pills,
stopwatches of desire,
I killed him for his assumptions
scratched on tabs of paper in his insoles:
“all” and “never” were some of his claims.
While the meaning of words can and often does shift over time, there is often an echo of the original meaning that lingers.
The Good Girl sleeps quietly
with other women’s husbands.
Dimples cast in concrete,
she cleaves a breast of white meat;
a potato bursts in the oven.
At first, the word ‘win’ meant merely to struggle.
Homeostasis: maintaining a couch,
a fire, a coffee table behind your ribs,
fine art on your turbulent heart.
At first, ‘attack’ meant to stick a tack into.
The Good Girl has forgiven music
for the pain it has caused her.
Bathing herself in vanilla and almonds,
she gets a job and keeps it,
collecting her pay like rainwater
in clean pools and pockets.
Here are the morning, the noon, and the night,
her silent partners, investors
in waiting, their solar and lunar coins
strung out like a dazzling bracelet
shimmering a dance of lust.